Enviro Updates

Sonoma County Conservation Council

A searchable archive of environmental news for Sonoma County

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , ,

Urgency in Earth Day call to action

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s been almost a half-century since newly minted leaders of the U.S. environmental movement called on Americans to rise and be counted as defenders of the planet and its increasingly imperiled ecosystems.

For the first Earth Day — April 22, 1970 — organizers wanted to take mainstream what had been an emerging awareness of the planet’s fragility, a call to action launched in the decade that had just ended.

The risks were abundant: pesticides, air pollution, oil spills, toxic dumps, overpopulation and depletion of land and water resources.

Pioneering images from the U.S. space program at that time revealed Earth as the finite world it remains to this day — small and glowing in a vast universe. Early Earth Day sponsors saw “a grave crisis” on the horizon, one that demanded urgency, commitment and action by all inhabitants.

“Are we able to meet the challenge? Yes. We have the technology and the resources,” Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, declared on that first day of mass reflection. “Are we willing? That is the unanswered question.”

His query still hangs in the air. Sustained campaigns to clean up our air and waters have seen success in the U.S., along with efforts to protect some endangered species and special places. Innovation, behavioral changes and a shared recognition of the risks to the planet all have helped.

But threats to the environment are more global than ever: Climate change and sea-level rise, mass extinctions, acidification and pollution of our oceans, disappearing bees. It’s enough to bring despair to the sunniest among us.

So The Press Democrat sought inspiration and encouragement from a few of the expert resources Sonoma County has in abundance.

Our planet, they say, can never return to what it was before the onset of the industrial era and the change it unleashed worldwide. But there is reason to hold onto hope and take heart as we confront the challenges ahead — reshaping our perspectives, banding together in collective action that conserves resources and restores the environment, and making individual choices that lesson our impact and uphold our responsibility for its health.

“If we think somehow this is going to happen without sacrifice, that’s not accurate,” said Tessa Hill, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. “There are fundamental things about the way we live today that are not sustainable.”

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8230333-181/earth-day-inspiration-from-sonoma?ref=TSM

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , ,

Rough paths forward for projects promising 1,200 housing units on Sonoma County land

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Housing units constructed in Santa Rosa in the last 5 years: 1,258

Housing units possible on 3 county-owned sites in Santa Rosa: nearly 1,200

Chanate Road, former county hospital complex
Size: 82 acres
Total units proposed: 867 (162 affordable)
Sales price: $6 million — $11.5 million

2150 W. College Ave., former Water Agency headquarters
Size: 7.5 acres
Total units proposed: 144 (29 affordable)*

*New development proposals being solicited

Roseland Village shopping center, Dollar Tree site
Size: 7 acres
Total units proposed: 175 (75 affordable)

Sonoma County wants to transform three large taxpayer-owned properties in Santa Rosa into new housing, with plans calling for as many as 1,200 units, a surge of supply in even greater demand after the destruction wrought by last year’s wildfires.

But with each of the county properties, which are either vacant or in need of improvements, the goals of government and developers have proven elusive, slowing the creation of new housing at a critical time, after nearly 5,300 homes were lost in the county in October’s fires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8213280-181/rough-paths-forward-for-projects

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Petaluma Wetlands added to international conservation list

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The Mekong River Delta, the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon Rain Forest, and now the Petaluma Wetlands, all share an important distinction. They are sites included in an international list of critical wetlands worth protecting.

Petaluma wildlife advocates received notice last month that the Petaluma Wetlands are included as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, a designation from the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature. The official designation means the Petaluma Wetlands are joining the 400,000-acre San Francisco Bay Estuary, which was awarded international status in 2013.

The Ramsar designation, named after the Iranian city that held the international Convention on Wetlands in 1971, doesn’t include additional funding, but is helpful in securing grants for wildlife conservation, said Susan Kirks, president of the Madrone Audubon Society.

“This is a significant recognition for the sensitive wetlands habitat, birds and wildlife of the Petaluma Wetlands,” she said.

The Petaluma Wetlands include Alman Marsh Tidal Wetlands, Shollenberger Park Wetlands, Ellis Creek Wetlands, Gray’s Marsh Wetland and Hill Property Tidal Marsh, all environmentally sensitive spots along the Petaluma River that are home to a diversity of species, including the salt marsh harvest mouse, river otter and an array of birds.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8191606-181/petaluma-wetlands-added-to-international

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , ,

Battle for Napa Valley’s future: Proposed curb on vineyards divides county

Esther Mobley, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

…the valley floor was planted to capacity long ago. The only land still available to plant is on the hillsides — essentially, in the agricultural watershed, the area that concerns Measure C.

Fifty years ago Monday, Napa County passed an ordinance that has defined the course of its history and, one could argue, determined the history of California wine.

The Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, passed by the Board of Supervisors on April 9, 1968, resolved to protect the valley’s most precious resource: land.

Here, land holds an extraordinary potential for producing fine wine grapes, and Napa residents wanted to protect it from strip malls and subdivisions. Agriculture, which in Napa means viticulture, was declared the “highest and best use” of this unique, unmatched slice of earth.

Now, a half century later, Napa has arrived at another turning point, this time with a June ballot initiative that could alter the course of its history again.

Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, on a mail-in ballot to be tallied June 5, seeks to curb further vineyard development to preserve the streams, oak trees and natural habitats on the Napa Valley hillsides. It’s a proposal that has bitterly divided the valley.

Its supporters, led by local environmentalists Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson, believe that after 50 years of unbridled success, the profit-hungry wine industry has brutally exploited the landscape. In the name of growing grapes, too many trees have been cut down, too much water contaminated. Measure C would mandate that vineyards have larger setbacks from streams and would set a hard limit on further deforestation.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/wine/article/The-battle-for-the-future-of-Napa-Valley-12816588.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result

Posted on Categories TransportationTags ,

SMART gets $22.5 million federal grant for Larkspur rail extension

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The extension of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line from San Rafael to the ferry terminal at Larkspur was awarded a key federal grant Monday, a $22.5 million check that will help make the line more accessible for both commuters and Bay Area tourists.

The Federal Transit Administration grant virtually assures that the 2.1-mile section already under construction will have the $55.4 million needed to complete the job, now envisioned for the end of 2019.

While Congress set aside the funds in 2016, allocation of the money by the federal transportation bureaucracies was never assured, so the decision to release the funds was a huge relief and represents a significant accomplishment for the local rail agency, said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager.

“This is a big story,” Mansourian said. “We are one of five projects in the nation — out of a pipeline of 50-something — that has been approved.”

The project is important because it will make the transition between rail and ferry more convenient for commuters on the 43-mile line, and will also make the North Bay more accessible for tourists, Mansourian said. Riders currently take a shuttle bus between the ferry terminal and the downtown San Rafael rail station.

“When this is done, we’ll be connecting a regional ferry to a regional airport,” he said.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8205751-181/smart-gets-225-million-federal

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local Organizations, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Hood Mountain Regional Park to grow with donation of Santa Rosa Creek property

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A pristine, quarter-mile stretch of upper Santa Rosa Creek will be permanently protected as part of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve after the Sonoma Land Trust’s recent purchase of a 40-acre parcel on the park boundary.

The new property, located near the Los Alamos Road entrance at the northern end of the park, contains the last stand of redwoods in headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek and a cool shaded creek canyon ideal for rare steelhead trout, one of which was spotted in its waters just last week, land trust representatives said.

The newly acquired property is relatively small — particularly compared to the 1,750-acre wilderness park it adjoins — but it has important value as a buffer between the park and a growing number of estate homes being built in the area, along Los Alamos Road, the nonprofit group said.

It also extends an established wildlife corridor through the hills above Highway 12 and the Oakmont/Kenwood areas. That corridor has become a focal point of local conservation efforts in recent years, as land managers seek to create room for mountain lions, deer, bear and a host of other critters to roam across Sonoma and neighboring counties.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8172398-181/hood-mountain-regional-park-to

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags , , ,

Sonoma County advances key Bay Trail link, with projected cost of up to $14 million

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The estuary of Tolay Creek southeast of Petaluma offers refuge to a host of wildlife, including rare shorebirds and waterfowl and a species of endangered mouse that lives only in the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay.

But the tidal waterway, which widens as it drains into San Pablo Bay just south of where it crosses under Highway 37, also sits in the way of a key link in the 500-mile trail envisioned to one day circle San Francisco Bay. About 70 percent of the network is complete.

To span the creek and close the 0.8-mile gap between two existing trails, parks officials are proposing a foot and bike path with a hefty projected price tag: $9 million to $14 million, depending on the design and alignment.

“It’s not a cheap endeavor,” said Ken Tam, planner with Sonoma County Regional Parks. “Where the trail alignment is located is actually in mud flats, and the materials to support a pier structure have to go very, very deep in the bedding to be sound. That increases the overall cost of the construction.”

The money could come from an proposed ballot measure in June that would increase in tolls on state-owned bridges in the Bay Area by $1 to raise an estimated $4.45 billion for transportation upgrades in the region. Up to $100 million could go to a long-delayed overhaul of Highway 37, where rebuilding costs are estimated at $1 billion to $4 billion.

The proposed Sears Point trail connector was endorsed as a parks priority last month by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors after an initial study highlighting the recreational demand and obstacles associated with the project.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8156043-181/sonoma-county-advances-key-bay

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Sonoma County launches first test of ‘groundwater banking’ to prep for drought

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s first experiment with underground drinking water storage is taking place at an unremarkable well drilled to 230 feet into the floor of Sonoma Valley.

Here, enough Russian River water to fill a large swimming pool — about 500,000 gallons — is now on deposit in a sand and gravel aquifer that lies beneath a thick lid of 8 million-year-old lava rock underlying part of the valley.

On Tuesday, crews began pumping water back out of the ground in the first round of testing under a $250,000 study of groundwater storage and recovery conducted by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the city of Sonoma.

The goal of the study, which started last month and will run through July, is to “verify and empirically determine” the feasibility of pumping plentiful wintertime surface water into the ground for extraction during dry summers, with increasingly volatile weather patterns expected as a consequence of climate change, officials said.

If the practice, known as groundwater banking, proves viable it “will make us a lot more resilient” as climate change forces the county to “ping pong between floods and drought,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the water agency.

Similar projects are underway around the state as water managers move toward integrated systems meshing surface water in lakes, rivers and behind dams with water stored in underground reservoirs, known as aquifers, he said.

Read more at http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/8187492-181/sonoma-county-groundwater-aquifer-drought

Posted on Categories WaterTags , ,

Recycled-water project would expand reach in Marin, Napa, Sonoma counties

NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
View the phase 2 draft EIR/EIS

Four public hearings are scheduled on the draft EIR/EIS:

Monday, May 7, 2018, 6:30–8 p.m.: American Canyon City Hall Council Chambers, 4381 Broadway, Suite 201, American Canyon, CA
Wednesday, May 9, 2018, 6:30–8 p.m.: San Rafael Community Center Auditorium, 618 B St., San Rafael, CA
Thursday, May 10, 2018, 6:30–8 p.m.: Petaluma Community Center, Craft Room 1, 320 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, CA
Monday, May 14, 2018, 6:30–8 p.m.: Sonoma Community Center, Room 110, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma, CA

Submit comments by 5 p.m. May 18.

The public comment period opens Wednesday for a proposed expansion of the use of recycled water in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties over the next seven years.

Over next 45 days, ending May 18, input will be accepting input on the second phase of the North Bay Water Reuse Project, which involves construction and operation of treatment capacity improvements, distribution facilities and storage facilities (seasonal and operational) to provide recycled water for environmental, agricultural and municipal reuse, according to the North Bay Water Reuse Authority announcement. Pipelines and pumping facilities would be built along existing roadways. Treatment and storage facilities would be located near existing wastewater-treatment plants.

The proposed project would provide 4,885 acre-feet per year of recycled water through construction of 20.6 miles of pipeline, one additional pump station, 10 acre-feet of storage and 4.87 million gallons per day of tertiary-treated wastewater. Work is planned by Novato, Marin Municipal, Sonoma Valley, Petaluma, Napa and American Canyon sanitation districts.

The water-reuse agency covers the watershed that drains into the north end of San Pablo Bay, an area of about 318 square miles in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties.

Public hearings on the draft environmental-impact document for phase 2 are set for May 7, 9, 10 and 14.

Submit comments in writing to: Anne Crealock, Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa, CA 95403 or via email to Phase2EIR@nbwra.org.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Author says big wine money has ruined Napa and Sonoma may be next

Bill Swindell, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

James Conaway is angry.

Author and journalist, Conaway has been the foremost chronicler of Napa

Valley for more than three decades. His “Napa: The Story of an American Eden” in 1990 told of the early pioneers who turned a family farming community in the valley into the premier wine region of the United States.

He followed that book with “The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley” in 2002 that covered how new investors were changing the valley with their emerging focus on tourism and marketing higher-priced cult wines to consumers.

His new book does not hide his current feelings for Napa Valley. “Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity” takes aim at the investors and big companies, which he contends have transformed the area with crass commercialism that has overridden the quality of life and harmed the environment.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8179182-181/author-says-big-wine-money